NBA Playoff Recap - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Game 2
(2) Orlando 112, (3) Atlanta 98 - Magic lead series, 2-0
The Atlanta Hawks got a big game from their big man. They bloodied up Dwight Howard. They scored 57 points in the first half. They allowed only 17 points in the second quarter. They earned 31 free throw attempts, making 30.
They still lost by double digits.
Yeah, it's that kind of a series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Even on a night when the Hawks were far better than they were in Game 1, the Orlando Magic still had the right answers at the right times. No matter what Atlanta did, Orlando found a higher gear and a superior brand of ball.
Everything started so well on Thursday night for Coach Mike Woodson's club, which was looking to rebound from a humiliating 43-point loss in Tuesday's series opener. The Hawks were poised to, at the very least, compete against the Magic. A no-show on the order of Game 1 was simply not acceptable, and Woodson needed to see some fire in his players' bellies.
That much he got.
Center Al Horford - who hit all of one field goal in Game 1 - delivered a 14-point second quarter and stood toe-to-toe with Howard, Orlando's superstar, in the paint. Thanks largely to Horford's high-level hooping, the Hawks outscored the Magic by 15 in the second period and took a 57-49 lead to the locker room at halftime. Atlanta needed to be miles better than it was on Tuesday, and after 24 minutes of action at Amway Arena in Orlando, the third seed in the East met the magnitude of the moment.
However, games are won in the fourth quarter, and when crunch time came calling in the Sunshine State, it was the defending Eastern Conference champion that put its foot down. Coach Stan Van Gundy saw his team produce yet more playoff Magic, remaining unbeaten in the postseason by holding Atlanta to just 15 points in the final period of regulation time. Horford couldn't bust loose the way he did in the second quarter, and with the Magic's long, rangy defenders clamping down on the perimeter, the Hawks - especially beleaguered guard Joe Johnson (5 of 16 from the field) - could not find the hot shooting streak they so desperately needed to steal a win on the road.
Instead, the Magic found a golden shooting touch in the final period. Mickael Pietrus, Vince Carter, Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis - who all hit at least 50 percent of their shots on Thursday - nailed three-point baskets during a decisive 19-2 run that blew the game wide open. Orlando's smothering defense complemented the three-point barrage by limiting Atlanta to just one field goal in an eight-minute span, from the 11:30 mark of the final period until the 3:30 mark.
Yes, Atlanta was better for a whole half and found itself locked in an open struggle after three quarters, but when the business end of this basketball transaction had been completed, the Hawks had been drawn and (fourth) quartered once again. This is just the kind of demoralizing episode which will prevent the underdog from believing it can win this series.
Maybe the Hawks will rebound at home in Game 3. However, after the Magic toyed with Atlanta's hopes on a fateful Thursday, it's hard to imagine how the defending beast of the East could ever relax its mental strangehold on this second-round go-round.
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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